Why Were The Stairs Warped?

Staircase in a prison block (Simon Norfolk – Auschwitz)

The tour guide at Auschwitz I took our group into block 4, and I was hyper aware of everything since it was the first block I’d ever been in. Maybe I was extremely dramatic, which was definitely self-inflicted, but I was afraid to breathe the air in there. Afraid that the air would tell me something sinister that I didn’t know about Auschwitz yet. First of all, air doesn’t necessarily have a voice, at least as far as I am concerned. But that doesn’t mean that air can’t. Stay with me, Reader, I am a unique writer without any formal training. I can’t remember what we saw or what the tour guide talked about throughout the block because on my left, at the end of a hallway, were a set of marble stairs. I was struck by the oddness of each step that led to the 2nd level; each step of marble was warped. Warped in the way that very thin metal bends, but each step was made of hard marble, and two directions of wear were present. Throughout the stairs’ lifetime, they’d been traveled up and down a lot. As worn down as they are, it’s possible that visitors have carved the marble overtime. It’s possible that the stairs had been subjected to the wear of even the Polish soldiers who had utilized the building before Nazi prisoner’s ever had.

To me, the stairs symbolize many things, but I want to draw attention to them as a symbol of the history of World War II. Pay no attention to the up-and-down directions that stairs mean. Focus on the plains and valleys of a single step. The plain of marble symbolizes the general history of the era, so the textbook lessons that I read throughout my K-12 education. These lessons are introductory, and they state factual history without any primary sources. On the step, there are two sides that are incredibly worn down. They slope upwards towards the middle of the step where the marble is level. Let’s say that the right slope symbolizes the written and oral experiences of the survivors and victims who were persecuted by the Nazis. Their stories alter the factual history in grade school textbooks by breaking down the general facts, exposing the layers of how scary and sad being on the receiving end of Nazi atrocities was. Once the graphic details are revealed, you can never forget them. For me, the most shocking details are of the starvation of prisoners (Elie Weisel, Night, 100-102), the humiliation of Jews forced to scrub streets with their bare hands (Dokumentationsarchiv des Oesterreichischen, USHMM), and the picture of a Ukrainian Jew kneeling at the edge of a mass grave where he’d fall forward into the grave after he was shot (USHMM). Knowing these details have worn on me overtime because they have been useful in my own attempt at understanding of the magnanimity of the Holocaust specifically. They are the steps that I take to asking deeper, more complex questions about history. Without them, no one would truly know what happened during that time.

In the left valley on the marble steps, I can insert anything, such as the experiences of Nazi soldiers. This can be frustrating if you don’t understand why reading and listening to their experiences, especially parallel to their victims’, is important to fully understanding the context in which they operated.

Hopefully you see now why the warped stairs in block 4 gained my attention. Bringing the up-and-down aspect of them back into this discussion, going up the steps can be hard, but so can going down them. Learning the history of World War II can be hard and intense, and sometimes easy, but every step is important because it holds stories and experiences that no one would know if they were not investigated. Look around. The most obvious, seemingly uninteresting objects may have the most stories to tell.


By Isabella Scully-Tenpenny

Trips To Emotionally Challenging Places: Remembering American Soldiers Who Died In Normandy During World War II


I won’t lie. Despite wanting nothing more than to participate in this program, I knew going into this that I would be going to places that might make me anxious. I worried about what I might encounter, and how I would respond. One of the locations I worried about visiting was Utah Beach in Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, France. Then, the second site I worried about was the American cemetery in Normandy after Omaha Beach.

“Second lieutenant Walter Sidlowski kneels over the blanket covered body of an American soldier he had just helped rescue from the surf off Omaha Beach” (The National World Was II Museum – New Orleans).

My anxiety about visiting these spaces stemmed from not knowing how other visitors would act. I am afraid of exhibiting negative emotions in an already extremely emotional place. For example, at the American cemetery in Normandy, there were several groups of foreign children who were quite literally running around the cemetery laughing and talking loudly with a paper assignment in their hands. I understand that the people buried there are not from the same country as the children, but I think that they shouldn’t have acted in the ways they did. Seeing them run down pathways made me angry. Where was the respect that burial places, and places of death, command?

Me placing an Ohio State flag beside the grave of Major Robert A. Lane, a 1934 Ohio State Alumnus who died in Normandy, France (Emma Knox).

Asking this question led me to consider another source of anxiety pertinent to both Utah and Omaha beach. Prior to visiting them, I asked Dr. Steigerwald if the beaches were used to do the whole beach-day thing. I was genuinely appalled when he told me that they had been before D-Day, and they still are. I said that it was like sun tanning in a cemetery, therefore, I proceeded on each beach, especially Utah and Omaha with caution.

Utah Beach Memorial (Scully-Tenpenny).

I’ve realized that I am caught in the past, while being in the present. Watching the beaches from afar, I was in my safe space where I’ve always been studying World War II. My feelings changed as I entered these spaces, standing on the sand where thousands of American soldiers fought, and died, almost 80 years ago. Utah Beach no longer looks like it did on June 6, 1944. None of the others do either, except for the Mulberry Harbor turning green and fuzzy with time near the shores of Gold Beach. School kids play soccer in the sand, horse racers use the wide expanse of beach to practice, and with how clear and blue the water is on a warm, sunny day, it’d be a waste for the beaches of Normandy to sit unused, stuck in the past. I’m grateful for the time I had in France and the time spent preparing for it, which has helped me to understand why remembering the past and enjoying the present can be experienced at the same time. Also, acknowledging that everyone deals with the memories of the past differently, and for the French, that means sun tanning on the beaches of Normandy. I think I would too, if it weren’t for the 3,752 mile journey to get there. My anxiety hasn’t subsided, but I do know that it will as I visit them in the future.

A survivor from a sunk American landing craft being helped ashore, Omaha assault area, 6 June 1944 (IWM).

Omaha Beach – 2024 – Kids playing soccer, tractors used to get small boats in and out of the water, the restaurant on the boardwalk (Scully-Tenpenny).

Churchill War Rooms Design and Layout May Simulate Life During World War II

WINSTON CHURCHILL AT THE CABINET WAR ROOMS, MAY 1945 (COL 30) The Prime Minister seated at his desk in the Map Room. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205124436

Prior to entering Winston Churchill’s War Rooms, I thought I knew everything about Churchill that I needed, and cared, to know. I was wrong. In the museum, I learned that Churchill had signs posted that said, “There is to be no whistling or unnecessary noise in this passage,” due to his severe sensitivity to sounds. This explains why he required everyone in the War Rooms to use a noiseless typewriter.

The museum is about Churchill’s life. It begins during wartime, and continues through the post-war time period, his death, his birth, his childhood, early political career, until visitors circle back to the war. The purpose for this was to catch visitors up to speed on how Churchill entered the Prime Minister position with the influence he had. The museum was rectangular, dark, and cramped, with rows of displays that are not all parallel to each other. Then, add at least 50 people walking around, passively looking at Churchill’s various awards and medals, while listening to an audio guide the museum provides. The room is mostly dark, and the sound of shuffling feet and some distant recording of one of Churchill’s speeches blankets the room.

Churchill War Rooms and Museum Map (IWM)

When I entered the museum, I noticed a sign outside of the entrance that recommended visitors walk in a clockwise direction around the sections. However, there isn’t a max amount of people for entering the museum, therefore, I struggled to view the museum as recommended. I became frustrated by the amount of people who blocked the rows, were walking in a counterclockwise direction, or had to brush me in order to pass me.

Inside the Churchill Museum (Axel Feldman / Nick Bell Design)

Taking a moment to think, I noticed that I felt negative towards the museum simply because of my own personal feelings. This prompted me to ask myself, what if the museum had purposely made the recommendation vague? The emotions that I experienced while going through the War Rooms were very similar to the emotional experiences of the people who worked there. Examples being too much unnecessary noise, noisy behavior, lack of personal space, and other people, etc. Had the museum limited the amount of people who entered, I guarantee that visitors would have a different experience. I wondered if this was deliberate in hopes that the natural courses the museum would lead visitors through would simulate what Churchill and the War Room workers experienced during the war. Even if the museum was not intended to bring about responses like I experienced, it is really important to notice how this can affect the public study of history. The War Rooms and museum stand out to me the most out of every museum I’ve ever visited. I am extremely grateful towards Churchill, his cabinet, and all the people who worked in the War Rooms. They all sacrificed their freedom to live above ground in the sun, and the right to make unnecessary noises, to help the Allies defeat the Axis Powers.

In the signals office on February 2nd, 1941 (IWM)

Including the following links to more information on the Churchill War Rooms and its preservation:

Making The Churchill Museum

Churchill War Rooms – AccessAble